SHORT STORY

I Don’t Know Any Angels
by Esteban A. Martinez

      She has never seen me.  She can't.  It’s hard to watch her now.

      The Boss assigned me to her just seconds before she was born.  I watched as she dropped from her mother's womb.  Her eyes glowed green.  I’ve never seen eyes like that in another.  Eyes with neither fear nor greed.  Eyes that see inside of you and let you see inside of them.  I held my breath when I saw her.  Her little hands, curly red hair, that pinkish skin and those eyes.  I wondered about my assignment, wondered how the Boss knows who to assign to whom, wondered about her, how her story would end.  Her name is Sylvia and she has little time to live.

      Sylvia.

      See, experience, know her.

      She lies on her futon in darkness.  Her eyes reflect amber as she drags on her cigarette.  Her body throbs from peculiar deep places, as though someone beat her from the inside out.  She wonders how she has endured the pain so far, the throbbing.  She feels under her armpit, the one where her doctor first detected the cancer.  It feels deformed, swollen, although three months ago doctors removed the cherry-sized lump that grew there.  She fingers the healing scar;  wonders why her body would heal such a trifle, knowing soon it will die.

      She gets up; walks to her kitchen window and stares at Michael, her husband, shoveling sidewalk snow.  She thinks of his optimism and wishes he had the cancer.

      It puzzles me how she loves and hates him at the same time.

      See, experience, know him.

      He shovels the snow, breathes the cold air, appreciates it.

      Snow melts on the back of his neck; reminds him that he lives.

      He smiles, breathes deeply, stares at the morning stars;  smiles again.

      An optimist.  She fell in love with him because of that.

      I understand the pull.  I can see his spirit.  In the face of any adversity he will always remain optimistic about life, existence.

      He bangs the shovel against the sidewalk, starts toward the house, notices Sylvia's pale face in the window; opens the door.

      See, experience, know them.

      "Done," he says smiling.

      She lights another cigarette; stares at him.

      "I'm going to die."

      He looks at the floor.

      "Don't talk like that."

      "Today.  I'm going to die today."

      "Come on.  We don't know when either of us will die.  The doctor says anything is possible.  He always says that.  And he said . . . he said we have time.”

      "Listen.  I want you to know so we can say good bye."

      He opens his hands to her.

      "How do you know it's today?"

      "I know because I want . . . because I need it."

      He stoops, unties his boots, rises, begins pushing one off with the other.

      "That's nonsense.  You can't just say you're going to die because you want to.  No one can do that.  That's bullshit.  It's bullshit unless you plan on killing yourself.  Is that what you plan on doing?"

      She turns from him, walks to an ashtray on the coffee table, flicks her cigarette.

      His face begins to pale.

      "I don't know,” Sylvia says.  “I just know today’s the day.  It has to be."

      She walks to the bathroom.  Michael watches her and prays.

      He doesn’t use his imagination, doesn’t know how to do so in prayer because, until he found out about Sylvia, he had not prayed for fifteen years.  I listen to him beg for a miracle.

      Consider miracles.

      Only the Boss can produce them.

      That's it.  There's nothing more to consider.

      Know my predicament.

      I, like Michael, love Sylvia.  I knew her before he knew her and she has always lived up to the promise of her eyes.  I don't want her to die.  Maybe there’s a way to save her.  Maybe I can convince the Boss to produce a miracle.  But I'm afraid to ask.  I don’t want to create any hopeless hope.  Yet I have to do something.  I want to scream but only cry.  I have never cried before.  It hurts.  I am in love with Sylvia.

      See, experience, know her.

      She stares at herself in the bathroom mirror;  remembers her beauty.  Men would see her from afar, her hair, ringlets of dark shine attracting the wind.

      The men would look twice.   As she walked by, they would see her eyes, pools of dark sea with light dancing inside them.  And the men would look twice.  They would look twice and stare.

      She remembers and rubs her bald head; powders its shininess, pulls on a short wig like a winter cap.  Unbuttons her shirt, lets it drop to the floor, stares at her blotchy body.  Her flaking skin and protruding ribs.  The smooth pink skin above her eyes, where dark brows once lived.  Her breasts cut to nubs by a surgeon's scalpel, creating an absence in the center of her chest.

      She thinks of the word absence, its associations—cavity, tooth, rot, empty—then whispers, my chest is an absence.

      The door clicks open.  Michael walks in.

      Respect their privacy.

      What they say to each other doesn’t matter.

      They only speak to disguise their agony.

      Know me.

      I'm young, a few universes old, often confused.  I keep these notes as required by the Boss' rules of learning.  Sometimes they help, sometimes they don't.  They stay with me in a scroll.  When I finally learn something from them I…

      I notice Sylvia flaking away.  I think of her skin, how beautiful it was when she was born, of how beautiful she was when she was in college, of how all the men looked at her, of how she was so beautiful that none of them could have improper thoughts about her.  Their thoughts might have started out that way, then something about her beauty would touch their hearts and the impropriety would leave them.  They'd just stare in awe and appreciate The Boss. 

     She's taking off her pajama bottoms and underwear.  I stare.  There's not much to look at, she's so damn thin.  Her pelvic bone looks as though it's about to rip through her skin.

     I want to do something for her, but the only thing that can save her is a miracle, something beyond my capability, beyond my authority.

     What if I ask the Boss to help her?  What will I say?

     Will He respond?  What if He doesn't?

     Michael walks in, smiling and holding about six plastic bags from King Soopers.  They're full of green vegetables.  And he’s thinking they might cure her and he has this spot in his heart, just a small spot, of pure hope, a hope that makes him smile.  He’s so stupid.  There’s no reason to smile.  His wife is dying.  And broccoli and cucumbers and whatever the fuck else he bought won’t do shit. 

     A wish.

     Somehow Michael's stupid smile, that hope in his eyes, did something I didn't know could be done.   He did it without permission from the Boss, without the requisite power of the Boss.  Or they both did it—love conquers all you know.  Or the Boss did it.  They're both alive and death is far away.

     There’s no such thing as fucking wishes .  Maybe it happens this way

     He understands.  Sees her pain.  Sees his selfishness.  Hands her the pills. 

     She takes them and swallows them.

     And she sees.  Understands his love.  Kisses him.  And knows he'll be all right because he's an optimist and somehow he'll see something bright about the whole thing, someday.  And he touches her wig lightly, pulls it off, kisses her head.  kneels, kisses her belly, cries, says he doesn't want her to leave him and she smiles, says she has to go, she has to and she cries and they wrap their legs around their legs and lie still in the darkness.

     What do I know.  Anything could happen.  Love conquers all.  LOVE FUCKING  CONQUERS  ALL.

     Even though he gave you the pills to make you happy, to let you die, you decided to live.  somehow, you're living and your hair has grown back, a little, and he's crying and praising God, and he doesn't even know that God doesn't do a damn thing but give you the privilege to reflect his image, and me, i don't know what i'm supposed to have learned but i know it was something, some important lesson derived from the billions of notes in my scroll.

     I see her.  she sees me, in the dark, sitting

     She turns on a lamp.

     Her bald head reflects lamp light.

     The throbbing makes her want to shout.

     She stifles a moan.  

     her bald head reflecting lamp light.

     her bald head

     her bald head

     her bald head

     her bald fucking head

     fuck

     The sky shines diffused light, a glory to the boss.

     It smells like rain, rain from the night before.

     I know her time is short but don't know when she'll take the long sleep.

     Fuck this

     I don't know any angels 

     not a goddamn one

     I thought if I wrote this maybe it would come true.  Or, at the very least, I thought if I wrote this as though it were a piece of fiction, I would gain some clearer perspective, or maybe it would become a fiction.  But I can't fictionalize this.  Sylvia, my wife, is really dying. 

     I wish I could understand, but I don't know a damn thing.  I don't know a goddamn thing except this fucking Jack Daniel's and the fact that my wife is dying and that I'd like to follow.  I don't know. 

     Jesus fucking Christ.  She's dying.  I'm no angel.  Just a bum.  A dreamer with a shitty job and dying dreams.  All I do is dream.  that's all i've fucking done.  dream.  and i ain't made one of my promises to sylvia come true.  not a goddamn one, we don't own a house and we still have only one car, a shitty one, and i never bought her a wedding ring with a real rock, my god, she's gonna die, be nothing but bone, nothing but my dream.  i thought nothing would happen to us, nothing is supposed to happen to us, we're survivors.  we've been through some hard shit, we beat a lot of hard odds because we’ve never been afraid to love, to share our love.  and this shit aint supposed to affect us because we’ve been through too much.  and then it comes and starts to eat her alive, and i'm thinking when she comes home from the doctor—jesus, i'm on my way—it's the same day i get an acceptance letter from the new yorker, the motherfucking new yorker, i've been dying for them to accept me, and goddamnit, the same goddamn day i get the letter she comes in, laughing, kind of nervous, doesn't make sense, says jesusfuckit, i got cancer and it aint going away, i shoulda took beta carotene like you did, but i think i'm gonna die. and i say shut the fuck up, quit fucking with me, today's my day babe, i'm gonna be in the new yorker, that big white snotty magazine, my dream, i made it.  and she sniffs away a tear and oh my god, i know she's not lying and i think, jesus, jesus, why did i ever call her fat, why did i ever call her bitch, she's been my life, and i think of the future because that's all i can do, think of mexico and beaches and women i don't love and blood in my seagrams vomit and i know i'm doomed and i want to kill her for dying at such a time and i don't know what to do.  then i think of her law school, how it was her dream, how she 's almost done and how tonight she looks afraid, and i know she's thinking of law school and i'm thinking i hate the world, i don't like this and where can i go for comfort because my parents are dead and sylvia's really dying and i didn't expect it to happen like this.  i thought maybe someday we'd say goodbye but not for a long time and not like this, i thought we'd just say good bye, with gray hair, just a goodbye, visit me in mexico.

      but she's really dying and we're too young,  and i hold back most of my tears and tell her  i'll love her always and that she's gonna stick around, fuck the doctor.

      and i put her to bed and she calls me, aren't you coming with me, and i can't because i'll start crying, maybe screaming, so i say no, and light a cigar my father  bought me not long before he died, go outside, step into fog, hope i get cancer, and that we die at the same time, in our sleep, but i know it's just a wish, a dream, unheard by the skies, and i finish it, the cigar, and step inside, smelling like rain and tobacco, my face all wet, and i try to write this stupid ass story with an angel, with sylvia, with me, with maybe some way to save her, with maybe a chance to learn something, to learn something about life, but as i write, i know i don't know shit, except that sylvia's dying, my love is dying

END

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